PARIS – Sofradir, a French manufacturer of military and civil infrared sensors, seeks to set a new technology standard with its Daphne device, which cuts the pixel pitch to 10 microns from a standard 15, said chairman Philippe Bensussan.
That reduction in microns represents a doubling of pixels, which delivers a higher resolution, smaller size, and lower weight and power, he said June 13 at the Eurosatory trade show.
Sofradir seeks to stay at the leading edge of a highly competitive advanced infrared market with the 10 micron pixel pitch, hoping to extend its presence in the US defense market.
IR detectors are fitted to equipment including night vision goggles, cameras and targeting systems on aircraft and vehicles.
“It will take 10 years” for 10 micron to replace 15 micron of military and civil infrared sensors – about as long as it took the latter to become the standard pixel pitch, Bensussan said.
Wasting no time, Sofradir has started low initial rate production of the Daphne, which is expected to be certified in September. The company hopes the new product will help compete with leading US competitors DRS and Raytheon, Bensussan said, adding that it is entirely possible to compete with the market leaders “if you are careful in the way you do it,” staying ahead on the technology.
Sofradir’s 10-year plan is to continue growing, relying on solid technology and selling a “detection capability,” he added. The company holds a contract to supply IR detectors to the US Air Force for night refueling, and plans to expand beyond simply supplying the IR device by incorporating the electronics that support integration of the detector on a camera, effectively “moving up the food chain,” he said. Sensor technology could use X-ray and ultraviolet, extending the range of conventional short, medium and long-wave IR detectors. The company also uses a detector relying on electrons.
There are new players in the IR market, with firms from China and South Korea supplying products in the cooled and uncooled products, raising the heat in the market, he said.
Sofradir will supply IR detectors for the planned Griffon multirole troop transport and Jaguar reconnaissance and combat vehicle in the French Army’s Scorpion modernization program, he said. The IR sensors will equip the two laser systems that will separately determine range and target the threat. The company is “in discussion” with the French authorities for the planned upgrade for the Leclerc heavy tank.
Sofradir is growing profit in double digits, helped by greater industrial use in civil markets for uncooled sensors built by its Ulis subsidiary. One of the applications uses an IR device to spot cracks in glass bottles on the production line.
Sofradir 2015 sales rose to €146 million ($165 million) from €139 million in the previous year, with sales of its Ulis subsidiary rising to €48 million from €44 million. The latter specializes in uncooled technology for civil applications, but also produces sensors certified for military use.
Sofradir specializes in cooled technology, which boasts limited US competition, but the American market is “very difficult for non-US companies,” he said.